US travel

Arizona Desert Spiritual Retreat

The sky in the northern Arizona desert is beautiful and ever changing.

Landscape view of dramatic clouds over desert vista.By day, the clouds are pushed around by the wind, sometimes briefly bringing a rain shower or offering a respite from the sun. However, the sun soon regains dominance until it sets in brilliance.

Brilliant, colorful sunset over Arizona desert.

The night sky offers a breathtaking view of the Milky Way and millions of stars, and eventually a glimpse of a sliver of the moon.

This I observe in awe, even as I try to get comfortable enough to fall sleep on my cot, hoping that those few intermittent drops of rain will not become a nighttime downpour.

Spiritual Retreat on the Arizona Desert

This post is not about wheelchair accessibility, as this location certainly as not accessible. In addition, following the protocol for this type of retreat I will not be sharing many photos or specific facts.

Instead, I want to share some thoughts from my recent trip to Arizona and a four-day camping trip with my oldest son and his girlfriend.

Woman and man facing forward, smiling and embracing.
Kealoha and George (taken at his home in Phoenix)

Knowing in advance that I would have no phone reception and that I would be taking very few photos, I was prepared for an “unplugged” experience. I was ready to stay “present” and be aware of my feelings – physically and emotionally – during my time there.

Here are some of the highlights.

Packing and Hydration Pre-Trip

I packed the essentials for camping: A broad-brimmed hat (which I wore a lot), sunscreen (which I neglected to use), a rain poncho (which was a godsend one afternoon), and comfortable shoes – because I am not fond of snakes or being stuck by cactus!

I also worked to prepare my body for spending a lot of time outdoors in the Arizona sun.

Silver water bottle labeled "Arizona National Guard" with two packets of Xendurance Hydro Stix displayed in foreground.
This hydration combination was essential.

I was keenly aware that hydration would be very important, so prior to and throughout the trip I diligently drank water mixed with grape-flavored Xendurance Hydro Stix. This is a gluten-free, professional-sports-grade hydration dietary supplement. (I brought two packages, each containing 20 single servings, for my personal use and to share with family.)

On Our Way

My son was already at the camp. His girlfriend picked me up at the airport and we loaded the car with our necessary personal items (cot, bedding, clothes, non-perishable snacks) and a dozen gallon jugs of water.

The drive took us Northeast from Phoenix to an isolated camp area at 6,000 feet, reached by a dirt road off the paved highway.

Landscape image of red dirt road in foreground, with small hills and vast blue sky in background.

This terrain is beautiful, wet or dry, although it was challenging to navigate after heavy rains on our departure day. Fortunately, a combination of skilled driving, confidence and positive intent got us safely there and back.

Sleeping Under the Stars

Although some of the participants slept in tents or motor homes, or in the back end of their SUVs, I slept on a cot next to one of the activity buildings.

Sleeping cot with bedding on top and duffle bag and other camping gear underneath, set up next to wood-paneled building.
My sleeping quarters.

With flashlights or headlamps as our main source of light, the setting was perfect for a clear view of the night sky. I love stargazing, and was overjoyed to see the Milky Way, Orion’s belt, and Ursa Major and Minor, along with hundreds of other constellations I cannot name. (I have a sky-gazing app on my phone, but neglected to use it. Did I mention I was “unplugged”?!)

A sliver moon was visible pre-dawn one morning. I remember waking up briefly, seeing it near the Eastern horizon, and thinking “Oh! There you are!”

Sleep the first night was challenging. I had a hard time finding a comfortable position on the cot as well as the right combination of bedding – I was either too hot or too cold.

But by the second night I had it figured out – with the help and advice of my son, a well-seasoned camper who usually sleeps under the stars. And, thankfully, although we did have some wind at night it didn’t rain. (Whew!)

“George’s Mom”

My son has attended this camp for the past few years, and he is well loved by the community. He was delighted to introduce me to his friends, and I was warmly welcomed as “George’s Mom.”

It was especially heart-warming to hear so many people express their appreciation and high praise of George. And I use the term “heart-warming” with intention. He is a deeply loving, caring man. I am grateful to see him so loved and appreciated.

Being of Service

Since I was there as a first-time guest I had few responsibilities. However, not wanting to be idle while others performed tasks for the benefit of the group, I offered my services to the kitchen staff. Most are long-time food service workers, and I enjoyed learning snippets of their stories as they expertly prepared meals for the retreat. (I was given simple tasks like preparing a deli tray for lunchtime.)

The food was delicious, varied and abundant. And in keeping with the commitment to treat the land with respect the plates, bowls, cups and eating utensils were all compostable. Made by Bagasse, these sugar cane fiber-based products will be buried as compost and should break down within 30-60 days.

Compostable Bagasse bowl, cup and eating utensils, set as a display near cactus in Arizona.
Bagasse products.

Personal Thoughts and Spiritual Intention

Without a phone to scroll through or other electronic diversions, I spent time journaling – something I have lately neglected in favor of photography and other forms of memorializing my days.

Both in preparation for and during the trip I found myself thinking about family dynamics and how that influences me as a 64-year old woman. I contemplated my self-image as an older female, and how I can view myself.

I also deepened my awareness of my ability to create my experiences, my path and my next steps as a creative being.

Landscape view of desert in foreground, stepped mesa in middle, and blue sky with puffy white clouds in background.For a few days I set aside the tasks, and the planning of tasks, that come with being a creative entrepreneur. Instead, I spent those days feeling enjoyment and appreciation for the natural beauty around me – even the wind and the rain and the heat and the noisy cicada.

Landscape closeup image of desert rocks, bushes, dried wood and yellow flowers, with red dirt in background.
Desert beauty.

I spent time in meditation and loving communication with myself and others. Although there were “things to do” as a part of the community, and to keep my own space well ordered, there was plenty of time and encouragement to “just be.”

My intention, as I approached this spiritual retreat, was to deepen my connection with my son, and to validate my ancestral roots. I feel this intention was realized.

I also felt an opening of my heart for myself and a deeper commitment to my spiritual and creative journey.

Desert landscape, with heart-shaped rock near bush in foreground and hills and blue sky in background.
Heart-shaped rock on the mesa.

As the event concluded and we had our last meal as a community I was asked if I would be coming back next year.

I don’t know. But I do know this was an experience I won’t forget, and a blessing to my soul.

By Jeri Murphy

Traveler, writer, photographer, former wedding officiant, mother, friend, explorer and new Texian ... that's just a little about me!

9 replies on “Arizona Desert Spiritual Retreat”

Oh my goodness, how beautiful! The photos are amazing and I’m so glad you had this time with George and for your own deep spiritual connection. I can’t wait to hear more about it. Xoxo


It was wonderful, and I look forward to sharing more with you!


The photos you offered are beautiful and showcases the “setting.” Your writing was wonderful and I love your intent! Kudos! I’ll tell you about my awesome cot, if you’re interested.


Thank you. It truly was a wonderful experience, made even more so because I got to share it with George. =)


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